Friday, December 16, 2016

11th Annual Gathering focused on Biodiversity in the Landscape

by Jenna Messier, Director of the NOFA Organic Land Care Program

The 11th Annual Gathering of Organic Land Care Pros was a huge success on December 9th! 
AOLCPs and other land care professionals from nine states came together to review the current state of pollinators, such as monarch butterflies and numerous species of bees, and to discuss how landscapers can influence their clients to provide diverse plantings and habitat which support the growth and development of critical species of pollinators.

Diane St. John - Monarch butterfly enthusiast

We started the day with Diane St. John, Retail Manager from Natureworks Organic Garden Center located in Northford, CT.  Diane spoke about their incredible annual project which raised over 700 monarch butterflies last season, and how they do so to increase the monarch population and to educate the public -both of which they have achieved.  Diane explained that the rearing of butterflies is a laborious task and described to the audience how sensitive these creatures are to any pesticides or even simple household cleaners which can cause their deaths upon contact.  Diane gave us a nice list of recommendations for creating monarch habitat:
  1. Plant Asclepias species to attract monarchs to lay eggs
  2. Plant nectar plants (lots of flowers!)
  3. Avoid using any pesticides
  4. Limit mowing in an area of your yard
  5. Share the experience with friends, neighbors and clients
  6. Contribute to and support conservation efforts 
Karen Bussolini with her publications
Karen Bussolini, author and garden photographer, wowed the audience with "The Year-Round Pollinator Garden" and shared tons of photos of lovely, diverse plantings. Karen recommends - at minimum - to have three blooming plants for Spring, Summer and Fall because so many of our unrecognized pollinators are active throughout the year.  The bonus for the gardener will be two-fold: more flowers to enjoy and more wildlife will visit your garden. Don't forget flowering trees such as willows, witch hazels,  tulip trees and magnolias.  Karen also joked with the audience that "Friends don't let friends plant annuals" which is not a true indication of your garden knowledge and creativity. She reminded us that annuals produce nectar for long periods of time and do offer an excellent food source for pollinators, and thus should be a part of your plant palette.

Catherine Zimmerman from The Meadow Project and Matrix Media was our keynote speaker, spreading the word about "Creating Habitat Heroes Across the Nation."  Catherine showed clips from her recent film, Hometown Habitat: Stories of Bringing Nature Home, which she co-created with Dr. Doug Tallemy. She shared her experience of filming individuals and organizations across the United
Catherine Zimmerman shooting film
States who are actively working to plant native plants and re-invigorate local habitats.  The film showcases communities who are publicly establishing new norms for landscaping, modeling an approach which encompasses working with the local ecology and weather patterns in mind, when designing and planting gardens. This message also extends to the landscaping industry, with the chapter "Sustainable Practices - Redefining the Horticulture Industry."  Many of the chapters provide messages which will resonate with homeowners and strategies to reach people where they are at - such as working with churches to green their own landscapes first.  This film is a must-have for every land care professional and is available at for $30.  NOFA OLC donated $500 to the project in support of Catherine's critical work of creating a film which can provide a national message about toxin-free, sustainable, and largely native landscapes as a new norm for homeowners.
Dr. Kim Stoner talks about bees

After lunch, Jeff Cordulack, Executive Director of CT NOFA, welcomed Dr. Kim Stoner to the stage by thanking her for her research and activism which contributed towards "An Act Concerning Pollinator Health" being voted in unanimously by Connecticut legislature in 2016.  This act is largely unfunded by does request that Dr. Stoner provide recommendations on creating and protecting pollinator habitat in Connecticut.  Kim then gave her presentation "What do Bees Need?" to the audience and shared her research about the requirements of many types of bees to survive.  Honey bees are not native to the U.S.and they do have significant winter die-off. However, they are so crucial to agricultural production, bee keepers can afford to reproduce the bee colonies each year to keep up with demand, although the populations have been decreasing for decades.  To improve conditions for honey bee survival, we must address Varroa mite management, protect them from pesticide exposure, and ensure they have ample supplies of nectar and water.  Bumble bee species have different needs as they nest in the ground and need early and late sources of pollen and nectar for sustenance.

John Campanelli, UCONN
 Next, John Campanelli from UCONN Dept. of Plant Sciences presenting on Native Mixes for Borders and Roadways.  John is a graduate student and has been working with CT D.O.T. to provide an informed source of plant lists which can easily be used for roadway plantings.  He started by saying that the first goal of roadway plantings is to prevent erosion while providing visibility of the roadside for motorists, so all plants must be selected based on meeting maximum height requirements.  Historically, turf grass has been planted along roadside for years, due to the ability to keep it mowed low, and that has led to a reduction of native grasses and flowers being found next to our roads.   John seeks to plant for pollinators while meeting the needs of CT D.O.T and motorists alike.  One of the findings of his research is that C4 grasses, otherwise known as warm-season grasses, can survive very well in our northeastern climate, look healthy and attractive, and need only one mowing per year.  In addition, these grasses offer increased stormwater management and carbon sequestration due to their deep roots. Some of John's suggested roadside plants are purple love grass (Eragrostris spectabilis), Little Blue Stem, Butterfly Milkweed and Northern Blazing Star.  John also suggests going to for plants lists of native plants and their ranges.
Linda Walczak
For our final presentation, we had Julie Snell and Linda Walczak from TEND Landscape Inc. in Philadelphia.  Julie and Linda discussed renovating a Rittenhouse Square, a heavily used park and its gardens, in order for the plantings and hardscape to be refreshed and useful for a few hundred more years. When designing the gardens, the following environmental factors had to be considered: sun/shade, wind, salt and chemicals, pollution, drought, drainage, pests and diseases and weeds.
The second major point regarding plant selection, was the need for an extensive list of second choices if the plants could not be sourced within 1 hour of Philadelphia.  Julie and Linda were surprised when 18 out of 44 plants needed to be substituted from their lists.

The whole day was wonderful!  Old friends were able to reconnect and many exciting topics were discussed.  We had an assortment of exhibitors and vendors, which is always a nice way to learn about new plants, products and trends within the organic land care industry.  We created a list of OLC Products and Services based upon all of our sponsors and exhibitors from the 11th Annual Gathering. Please save and refer others to this important resource.

Here are some more photos from the event:
Barry Draycott talks with an attendee
Gregg and Peter from Compostwerks!

Dan Furman from Cricket Hill Garden
Fred Newcombe from PJC Organic

Monday, November 28, 2016

Press Release: NOFA Annual Gathering December 9th

For Immediate Release - November 28, 2016 Derby, CT:
     CT NOFA and its NOFA Organic Land Care Program are pleased to announce the 11th Annual Gathering of Land Care Professionals on December 9, 2016.  The event will take place at the Aqua Turf in Southington, CT and features prominent garden speakers, writers, researchers and filmmakers all addressing the theme "Biodiversity in the Landscape." This conference is very timely, as the Connecticut legislature unanimously voted in the Spring of 2016 and approved SB231 An Act Concerning Pollinator Health, an act which aims to reduce the use of neonicotinoids and to create a pollinator advisory council to reduce further pollinator die-off.
Catherine Zimmerman, The Meadow Project
      Coming from Maryland, activist, author and film director Catherine Zimmerman will be delivering the keynote speech "Creating Habitat Heroes across the Nation" and sharing what she learned while traversing across the country and filming people who are committed to planting native plants and designing habitat-friendly gardens.
     Catherine's latest film is called "Hometown Habitat" and demonstrates the impact which local garden and environmental groups can have when they educate the public about planting sustainably and in favor of the local environmental conditions and fauna.  This approach is in contrast to our contemporary yardscape which may contain a sterile monoculture of lawn and a few ornamental plants which often do not supply nectar or nesting places for our native pollinators to live and survive. Catherine hopes her new documentary will help fire up the movement toward making natural landscapes the new landscaping norm!
Karen Bussolini
Karen Bussolini is a national garden speaker and writer hailing from Kent, Connecticut. Karen will give a talk called "The Year-Round Pollinator Garden" and will highlight plant varieties which appeal to pollinators in early Spring, late Fall and Winter which many gardeners do not plan for in their designs. Karen is a seasoned garden photographer and has co-authored many garden books such as the "The Naturescaping Workbook."

Linda Walczak
     Julie Snell and Linda Walczak from TEND Landscape, Inc. located in Philadelphia, PA. will bring an urban design perspective to the conference when they present "Biodiversity in Urban Gardens - Opportunities and Challenges." The two women met while working at Pennsylvania Horticultural Society which designs and manages hundreds of city gardens and parks. Now they work in their own landscape design firm continuing to offer an organic approach to urban land care through design.
Julie Snell

 Diane St. John will represent Natureworks Garden Center in Northford, CT, where she leads the efforts to raise hundreds of monarch butterflies each summer.  She will teach the audience about the process of taking care of these magical creatures from eggs to butterflies, which at times fill the
garden center with cages and chrysalises beyond capacity!
Diane St. John, Natureworks Garden Center
   The conference will have two academic researchers presenting their work.  Dr. Kim Stoner is an entomologist from Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven.  Her day job includes researching the effects of pesticides on pollinators, writing formal research papers, and speaking at
Dr. Kim Stoner, CAES
national conferences.  In addition, Dr. Stoner spent years founding the NOFA Organic Land Care Program to advocate for safe, sustainable land care practices in the non-agricultural arena.  Kim will be presenting "What do Bees Need?" in order to inform the audience about bee populations, their food sources and nesting patterns so they can be preserved and not harmed by landscaping practices.
John Campanelli, UCONN
     The second academic presenter will be John Campanelli, a graduate student in Ecological Restoration from University of Connecticut. John will share his research on "Native Mixes for Borders and Roadways" with the audience.  John hopes his research will help CT Department of Transportation to easily select the best plant mixes for roadside establishment, plants which will be low maintenance, not require herbicide applications, and which will also be a food source for pollinators - a win-win!
     The audience will include landscapers, environmental educators and related professionals who directly care about our landscapes, many of whom have completed the 30-hour NOFA Accreditation Course in Organic Land Care. All are welcome and can sign up at or call 203-308-2584.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Q&A with Chip Osborne, President of Osborne Organics, Inc.

1.    Please describe your business in 50 words or less.
Osborne Organics consults with local, state, and federal agencies as well as universities and other institutional clients to transition landscapes to natural, organic practices and protocols with a specialty in natural turf. Osborne Organics has developed the “Systems Approach to Natural Turf Management” and offers professional training around the country.

2.    What is the state of the organic gardening industry? Where do you see the greatest growth and what’s driving it?  I believe the organic gardening, landscape, and turf industries are strong and continually growing. We are currently experiencing a tipping point, or change in the marketplace, that we have pointed to for the past twenty years. Organic practices are no longer on the fringe, but are now mainstream.
Chip Osborne
The concept of the organic landscape began with the homeowner (residential property) some time ago. It is now widely being considered as the management protocol of choice for larger properties, both commercial and private. When that segment is combined with a strong interest by the municipal sector for organic practices, products, and protocols for playing fields and public spaces where children play, we can now point towards some significant numbers.

This is being driven by the public’s perception regarding the dangers of pesticides. We are seeing the results of tireless efforts by many advocates over the years who have worked at the grassroots level to change people’s minds regarding the use of synthetic water soluble fertilizers and chemical pesticides.
It is the change in the marketplace that continues to move all of this forward. In addition to that, legislation is now being enacted around a variety issues at the state, county, and local level regarding restrictions of different types on pesticides and synthetic fertilizer use.

There is growing interest across all segments of society regarding organic practices. They include residential properties that range from small homes to large estates, commercial properties, hotels, resorts, colleges, universities, and golf courses. The main theme across them all is the desire to have a healthier environment for work and play.

There is a geographical component to the acceptance of organic practices. There is no question that Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Westchester County in NY are the birthplaces of organic land care. We are excited to see the growing interest in New Jersey, the mid- Atlantic, particularly Maryland, the upper Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, and Southern California. Accredited Organic Land Care Professionals (AOLCPs) can be proud knowing that they are part of an organization that worked from the beginning with others to lay the groundwork to effect tremendous change.

3.    What are some of the most common challenges professionals face in caring for the land organically and what approach do you take to solving them

From my perspective, the problems are not product oriented entirely. There are limitations in materials that we can use, but for the most part most resources are available to us. The organic product industry has evolved to a point where we now have access to state-of-the-art fertility and soil health inputs that focus on the biomass more than the plant. Knowing that a natural system in many cases can manage itself, the product becomes somewhat secondary.

We now have a variety of organic insecticides and fungicides should we need to intervene. For those that manage turf grass and hardscape, a limiting factor can be minimal, cost-effective product to address weeds.

Developing a tolerance, or weed threshold, is critically important in all aspects of the managed landscape. We need to move beyond the concept of a monoculture. That being said, all organic landscape professionals at some point in time are faced with managing a misplaced plant effectively for a client. It can be a challenge, but is getting easier as new materials are developed.

The greatest challenge in my mind is the comfort of organic professionals to communicate to others what we believe in and do. Many of us have adopted these practices to reduce the use of pesticides, others to reduce synthetic runoff, and others because they have always done it that way. Some of us came from the conventional industry and have adopted organic management practices as a result of what we experienced firsthand.

The driving factor for me is the reduction and elimination of pesticide use in the landscape. Contrary to information put forth by the conventional product industry, landscapes do not get better with the use of synthetic materials. I know firsthand that movement towards an organic approach immediately improves the landscape. There is absolutely no question that the organic landscape looks, performs, and pleases to a far greater degree than its chemical counterpart.

4.    What advice do you have for conventional land care professionals who are considering transitioning to organic?

Forward thinking conventional practitioners are beginning to seek out opportunities to understand and learn about organic lawn and land care. It does take the change in market demand to bring many of them to the table. They may not approach organic from the same perspective that we do. It might be, and probably is, more rooted in financial interests, but whatever it takes is fine with me. I firmly believe that the more widespread adoption of organic lawn and land care practices and protocols on a national level is simply limited by the lack of education about how it needs to be approached.

CT NOFA's Organic Land Care Program has responded to the challenge for the past fifteen years to meet that demand. When I interact with the conventional industry, I make them aware that there is a learning curve and that it is to their best interest to seek out education. Because what we do is not just putting down product, those that try the product swap-out will usually fail. In addition to the initial learning experience, keeping abreast of changes with continuing education is, and will be, critically important for all of us.

5.    How do you consider your business to be part of the solution to environmental degradation and overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides? How do you educate your clientele?

Osborne Organics works with a diverse group of clients that range from individual landscape professionals to the federal government and everything in between. We would like to think that in some small way we can influence the market by showing that the debate about the safety and dangers of pesticides is now less relevant because we have proven that alternative non-chemical strategies can work and meet expectations. With strategies that work on one hand and the precautionary principle on the other, it is difficult not to embrace alternatives.